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On Getting to Know Professors
May 1, 2007
On the first day of law school, I nervously walked into my first class, opened my laptop, and prepared to become part of the overwhelmed, anonymous masses. Immediately, several things surprised me. First, the professor began with an example from a Ricki Lake show concerning some “baby mama drama.” This, I thought, was going to be fun.
Then, the professor proceeded to look out into the room and identify one of my classmates by her name, and ask her a question. How did he know her name? We weren’t in assigned seats. I assumed he must have known her from before somehow. But then it happened again. And again. And in all my other classes. It finally dawned on me that my professors – famous scholars and intellectual giants all – had taken the time to sit down with the Facebook and memorize our names, faces, and often where we were from and where we’d gone to school. That was the first clear indication of the faculty’s commitment to getting to know us as individuals and to make us feel at home.
There are many things that make the YLS experience unique. Of course, not having grades is one of them. However, I think the interest our professors take in their students (and in teaching), and the opportunities we have to work with them and get to know them outside of the classroom rank very high on the list of why YLS is so special. To best illustrate this point, perhaps I can describe some of the different relationships I’ve built with my professors over the past two years.
I so enjoyed one of my 1L fall professors that I went on to take the class he offered in the spring (on a topic that seemed totally scary to me), and now he’s supervising one of my major papers (and being very understanding about extending deadlines, I might add). I’ve become a teaching assistant for another professor I had and admired 1L fall, and he takes us to a friendly, sociable lunch every week. A third 1L fall professor has become a friend whose office I drop by frequently just to say hi, even though I haven’t taken any more classes with him and I’m not working on anything related to his area of expertise. I met yet another professor on a hike early in my first year, befriended his kids, and ultimately became his research assistant. When I was working my 1L summer job, I often called my small group professor (and others) for advice and guidance on various issues. I even got to take a field trip to Foxwoods Casino with one professor.
I obviously rely on my professors for academic advice, but they’ve also become an important source of personal and professional guidance. I’ve asked professors to read paper drafts, but also to advise me on which firm to pick, how to move my career in a particular direction, and even what new restaurant I should try. My professors have become role models, mentors, and friends.
Of course, not all professors are the same, and of course it takes mutual effort to develop strong relationships. But on the whole, I have been overwhelmingly impressed by how dedicated the YLS faculty is not only to exceptional pedagogy but also to the lives of their students as people, above and beyond the classroom.